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Profile: Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva speaks at a meeting with homeless people in Sao Paulo in Dec 2009
Lula remains popular after almost 10 years in power

It took Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva four attempts at becoming Brazil's president before he was finally elected in 2002 and then re-elected for a second term in 2006.

Upon his first election, he became the first left-wing contender to hold the country's highest office in nearly half a century, following a landslide victory.

In his last full year as Brazilian leader, he still commands high popularity ratings which most other world leaders would envy, correspondents say. But he cannot run for a third consecutive term.

His 2002 election victory marked the end of an unprecedented journey - from abject poverty to the presidency of Brazil.

Lula came to power promising major reforms to the country's political and economic system.

He vowed to eradicate hunger and create a self-confident, caring, outward-looking nation.

Analysts say it is because of some of his government's social programmes - which benefit tens of millions of Brazilians - that Lula has maintained huge popularity among the electorate.

He has raised Brazil's profile on the international scene and presided over Brazil's longest period of economic growth in three decades, they say.

Road to pragmatism

Lula began life in altogether more humble circumstances.

The son of a poor, illiterate peasant family, Lula worked as a peanut seller and shoe-shine boy as a child, only learning to read when he was 10 years old.

He went on to train as a metal worker and found work in an industrial city near Sao Paulo, where he lost the little finger of his left hand in an accident in the 1960s.

President Lula poses with workers during the inauguration of a metro line in Rio de Janeiro in December 2009
The former metalworker was the first president of working-class origin

Lula was not initially interested in politics, but threw himself into trade union activism after his first wife died of hepatitis in 1969.

Elected leader of the 100,000-strong Metalworkers' Union in 1975, he transformed trade union activism in Brazil by turning what had mostly been government-friendly organisations into a powerful independent movement.

In 1980, Lula brought together a combination of trade unionists, intellectuals, Trotskyites and church activists to found the Workers' Party (PT), the first major socialist party in the country's history.

Since then, the PT has gradually replaced its revolutionary commitment to changing the power structure in Brazil with a more pragmatic, social democratic platform.

Before his 2002 election victory, Lula had previously lost three times, and he began to believe his party would never win power nationally without forming alliances and keeping powerful economic players onside.

So his coalition in that election included a small right-wing party, and he carefully courted business leaders both in Brazil and abroad. The Workers' Party manifesto reflected its sometimes conflicting instincts.

It remained committed to prioritising the poor, encouraging grassroots participation and defending ethical government.

Performance in power

In his almost 10 years in power, Lula has pumped billions of dollars into social programmes and can reasonably claim to be reversing Brazil's historic inequalities.

By increasing the minimum wage well above inflation and broadening state help to the most impoverished with a family grant programme, the Bolsa Familia, he has helped some 44 million people and cemented his support among the poor.

However, many commentators argue that the programme fails to address the structural problems that underpin poverty, such as education.

There is also some criticism of the country's economic performance under Lula. Although Brazil has seen steady annual growth, some business leaders argue it is losing the competitive edge against international rivals.

Nonetheless, his government has quelled fears of the financial markets by keeping the economy stable and achieving the budget surplus required by the International Monetary Fund.

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